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Trade Objectors test the definition of a “street” in a betting office application case

Since the Gambling Act 2005 came into force on the 1 September 2007 there have been a few challenges by trade objectors to applications for betting office licenses. There has been no repeat of the standard trade objection to applications for betting office licences under the previous 1963 Act which often resulted in lengthy hearings before the Magistrates Court.

In a recent application however for a betting office licence in Manchester, Betfred sought to block an application by Bet 138 for a betting office licence arguing that the mandatory principles for betting licences could not be complied with. I have no doubt that the fact that the application was close to a huge Betfred shop in China Town Manchester influenced the decision to try and block the grant of a new licence. Trade protection is still alive! The Gambling Commission Guidance to Licensing Authorities sets out the relevant access provisions for each type of gambling premises and confirms that in so far as betting shops are concerned the following access provision must apply:

Access must be from a “street” or from other premises within a betting premises licence and there must be no direct access from a betting shop to another premises used for the retail sale of merchandise or services. In effect, they cannot be an entrance to a betting shop from a shop of any kind unless that shop is itself a licence betting premises.

The definition of a street appears in paragraph 7.21 as “including any bridge, road, lane, footway, subway, square, court, alley or passage (including passages through enclosed premises such as shopping malls) whether a thoroughfare or not. This is to allow access through areas which the public might enter for purposes other than gambling, for example, access to Casinos from hotel foyers.

What were the circumstances that led Betfred to set themselves out as the “enforcers of gambling legislation”? Bet 138 applied for a betting office licence within 41 Faulkner Street in Manchester. 41 Fortner Street is a large building in China Town with several steps up to a foyer on the ground floor. There was a unit to the right of the foyer which Bet 138 sought a licence for and which had previously operated as a Tailors and a unit to the left of the foyer which had previously operated as a hairdressers. The stairs off the foyer led to a printing works which the public had access to and there was further office accommodation above the printing works. Betfred argued that as the betting shop door led to the foyer of 41 Faulkner Street, Manchester, it did not lead to a “street” and therefore the application could not be granted.

Part 7 of the Gambling Commission Guidance to Local Authorities sets out a number of helpful paragraphs in clarifying the rationale behind the requirement to have access from a street. It confirms that a single building could have more than one premises licence in that one premises licence could be granted to a unit in a basement and another to a unit on the ground floor. It guards Local Authorities against licensing areas which are artificially segregated or separated and paragraph 7.19 refers licensing Authorities to look at the unlicensed area from which there is access to gambling. The clear interpretation is that the Gambling Act 2005 does not want betting shops opening if the public are not clear that they are leaving an unlicensed area and entering a betting shop.

I have to say it was very difficult to understand the Betfred argument and it would appear from the speed of the decision that Manchester Licensing Committee did not quite understand the argument as well. The facts of the case were very clear. The foyer at the top of the stairs was an unlicensed area. It was an area to which the public had access for purposes other than gambling. The public would access that foyer either to use the units to the right, the unit to the left or the printing shop on the first floor. It was quite clearly therefore an area to which the public accessed for purposes other than gambling and was a foyer in an enclosed premises just as a passage through a shopping mall does a thoroughfare in enclosed premises.

The application was granted and the Committee accepted the Applicants arguments and appeared to give little weight to the trade objectors submissions.